Strong Coffee

More from Lenore: brace yourselves for this one! From Miss Coffee’s days working for producer Harry Garson and movie star Clara Kimball Young.

About the fan mail. Letters which were friendly and admiring went to Clara. Those which asked for a signed photograph went to Garson’s secretary. But there remained another category which went into a special file, alphabetically arranged according to the name of the town and state on the postmark. No envelopes belonging to these letters were ever thrown away, for if two came from the same town or the same person, then both were sent to be investigated by the police of that town. These were the obscene letters. Not plain pornography which, in these permissive days, is as easy to say as photography; the contents of these would be shocking even today. They were never shown to Clara but went from me into that special file. I don’t think the public realizes the things to which stars are subjected. So I’m going to copy, from memory, one of the least offensive—and one that I had to show Clara, for while the opening and closing paragraphs were clear, the centre one puzzled me. The letter began by a young man explaining in great detail how he took two sisters to bed and, lying between them, ravaged first one and then the other. The girls were completely inexperienced and he described their reactions with great gusto. The older on—and I imagine both were under age—was frightened but excited. The younger one cried out in pain and genuine shock; but, after a while he said, ‘came back for more’.

Then came the centre paragraph which contained a series of numbers and measurements. I should have known what they were, but I didn’t, and decided to ask Clara. The concluding paragraph needed no explanation. I’ve never forgotten the words. ‘You should have seen the bed the next morning. It looked like the Japanese flag.’

Clara was in her dressing-room and I apologized for asking her to look at this letter, explaining my reason. ‘It’s just this middle paragraph,’ I said; but as she read the letter through, her face filled with disgust. ‘Do I get many of these?’

‘No,’ I lied, ‘not nearly so many as the nice ones. But I thought it seemed odd to introduce mathematics into this subject.’

Clara hesitated, then said, ‘Well, you see, inches play a part in this sort of thing, and he’s bragging about how splendidly he is equipped.’ A light dawned on me. ‘You mean he’s giving the measurements of what hospitals call his “private parts”?’ Clara nodded. ‘But why?’ Clara thought for a moment. ‘You remember the saying that if the nose of Cleopatra had been a quarter of an inch longer, the history of the world would have been changed?’

‘Yes, but I don’t see…’ I paused as I saw Clara’s amused eyes as she said, ‘Well, applied to a different part of the body, that applies to men, as well.’

‘You mean there’s a difference in size between men?’

Clara leaned over and gave my hand a pat. ‘My dear Lenore, a man’s whole lifetime of happiness can depend on one inch more or one inch less. The poor creatures!’

She looked down at the letter again. ‘I don’t think you should be asked to read these—‘

I said, ‘No, if I’m going to stay in this business, and I certainly intend to, I must take the rough with the smooth. Actually, I’ve got so I can almost smell them through the envelope. I open one, take a quick look, and if I’m right, back it goes into the envelope and into the file.’ Then Aunt Eva came in and it was time for Clara to dress, and I went about my business.

Crikey. It isn’t Hollywood that’s corrupt and decadent — it’s the public!

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10 Responses to “Strong Coffee”

  1. If Clara Kimball Young inspired such descents into sexual obsession, imagine the sweaty missives sent to Doris Day and Annette Funicello.

  2. I suspect AF’s fans wouldn’t have the strength to write anything after watching her.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the writer of that fan letter was guileless enough to put his real name and address on it, hoping Clara would come calling to see Mr. Mojo rise.

  4. Clara sounds great. What a gal!

  5. His encounter is so much like Alex’s William Tell Overture orgy in Clockwork Orange that I wonder if Burgess read this.

  6. Thanks for sharing, though the anecdote prompts flashbacks to a dreadful poem by the inexplicably lauded Don Paterson, “Imperial”: “the night we lay down on the flag of surrender / and woke on the flag of Japan”.

  7. That’s slightly less gross than the sexy version, though. So I give him points for leaving underage sex out of it.

  8. The era when “political” could be used as a come-on! Not to mention “sardonic”…

  9. [...] Cairns digs up some disturbing fan mail from the early days of [...]

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